Percy Jones (1892-1922) will forever live in the history books as Wales’ first world champion, but weight problems then the devastation of World War I prevented him entering the popular consciousness alongside the country’s early boxing greats – Jim Driscoll, Freddie Welsh and Jimmy Wilde.
Jones was born to a mining family in Treherbert and grew up in Porth, where he learnt much of his trade in Jack Scarrott‘s boxing booths.
The Rhondda boy had his first professional fight in 1911 and – despite drawing his first bout – the fast and powerful flyweight went undefeated for the first 43 showdowns of his career.
The last of the 43 was at the National Sporting Club, London, on 26 January, 1914, where – at the age of 21 – Jones claimed the world, European and British flyweight titles with a 20-round points win over England’s Bill Ladbury.
The challenger was clearly the better boxer, but tough, powerful Londoner Ladbury kept coming forward in a superb, fast and clean fight that was noted for the lack of clinches.
As the champion came on strong in the later rounds, Jones relied on his clever footwork, superb defence and accurate left hand to take him to the narrowest of points wins.
The Welshman’s poor finish to the fight may have been related to the problems he had faced at the weigh-in, when he had to lose 6ozs – a presage of future problems. Jones has been described as a natural bantamweight, and his struggles to defend his title at the lower 8st flyweight limit would cost him dear.
The new champion faced France’s future Hall-of-Famer Eugene Criqui next, dropping a 15-round decision in a non-title bout at the Liverpool Stadium. A rematch was made at the same venue six weeks later where – with his title on the line – Jones won a 20-round decision.
Jones never again made the flyweight limit, his problems with the scales meaning he lost his titles outside the ring.
Knock-out wins in Wales followed, against George Reeves, Young Kendall and Billy Jones, before he faced Tancy Lee. Jones again failed to make the weight, meaning that he had to forfeit his remaining titles.
The bout went ahead at a catch weight, and Lee stopped Jones in the 14th. The Scottish great would claim the vacant belts in his next bout, a 20-round points victory over another Welsh legend, Jimmy Wilde.
Jones moved up to bantamweight and fought while serving in the war, his last bout – a 1916 win over Private Cole – leaving his recorded career at 50 wins (31 knock-outs), three defeats (two by knock-out) and three draws.
In 1916 at the Somme, Jones was wounded in the leg and gassed while serving as a sergeant. He refused to take a stretcher and dragged himself back to safety, but the northern French mud got into the wound and left him with blood poisoning.
After nearly 30 operations, Jones’s leg was amputated in 1918. With his weight reduced to just 4st 2lbs, Wales’ first world champion died of trench fever on Christmas Day, 1922, one day short of his 30th birthday.
- Gareth Jones, “The Boxers of Wales: Volume Three, Rhondda” (St David’s Press, Cardiff, 2012)
- Tony Lee, “All in my Corner: A tribute to some forgotten Welsh boxing heroes” (Ammanford, 2009)